Boulder Creek Hardware

babychicks Spring has come and it always makes me think of chicks. Chickens not bikini clad girls! So this month’s How To column is all about chickens. Growing up on a ranch we had chickens, and I still have them now at my home here in the valley. But now that your hardware store, Boulder Creek Hardware, is carrying chicken feed and supplies; I thought it would be a perfect time for me to share my experiences and some of the new things that I have learned from our suppliers.

If you have not had chickens before they can be very rewarding. I feel the best reward is the fresh eggs, and nothing beats a fresh egg! Properly composted droppings make great fertilizer for your garden, they reduce your waste by feeding them your table scraps, and in our house they act as an alarm clock. In addition, they help control unwanted garden pests like slugs, and kids love them. There is a good amount of care and feeding that goes into making a happy chicken, but they tend to be less work than dogs and much less expensive.

If you start with baby chicks they are one of the cutest things in the world, but they will need your help and constant attention to grow into a chicken. It’s a good idea to keep your chicks inside until they are five to eight weeks old. They will have lost most of their cute fluff and will have small feathers at the time they are ready for the big outside world. It’s fine and fun to take them outside before, at about three weeks, but you must be with them, as these little gals can run! While they are inside take care of them in what’s called a brooder, or at my home it’s called a cardboard box in the living room. The key to healthy happy chicks is cleanliness. These cute fluff balls are poop machines. Bedding can be wood shavings or some folks use newspaper ripped up, but whatever you use be sure to change it as soon as it gets wet and soiled. Fresh constant food and water is key. Sounds simple, but they can eat and drink fast!

 Chicken Feeder                       Chicken Waterer                       Heat Lamp

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Remember out in the wild Mom is keeping them warm so you will need to as well. If you have been paying attention you now know the 100 watt bulb is gone. I suggest an R40 125 watt specialty bulb made for just this. The brooder should be 90- 100 degrees for about the first week and then reduce the heat about five degrees until feathers appear. You can also just watch the girls, they will act sluggish if too hot and huddle if too cold. They will want to roost at about one month, so lean a stick up inside the brooder for them. There are options when it comes to chick feed, but it’s a good idea to keep them on crumble food until about six to eight weeks, no greens yet. Greens too early can cause what’s called pasting up. This is when the vent area gets poop that hardens. If this does happen just clean them with a warm moist towel. Treats are fun! Find a worm and toss it in the brooder and watch them go! Chick feed is available medicated and non-medicated. The medicated contains amprolium to help prevent Coccidiosis, a parasitic disease of the intestinal tract caused by microscopic organisms. There is a very high risk of death if your chicks do not receive medicated feed.

 

 

I wonder sometimes when I hear the coyotes off in the woods if the chickens are hearing it too. I’m sure they are clucking “Oh, I don’t want to be dinner!” Coyotes are part of the reason along with skunks, rats, dogs, raccoons, snakes, hawks, possums and more that I built what my family calls the “Chicken Fortress.” Up here we have to make sure the coop is protected from our mountain wildlife, and don’t forget the roaming dog too. I’ve lost chickens over the years to neighbor’s dogs wandering on our property hence, our chicken fortress. My coop is about four by eight feet and the yard is about six by ten feet. Doors of the coop should be secured around here with spring loaded hook and eye latches, the raccoons can open them if they are not spring loaded. I use standard chicken wire for the top and sides of the yard but switched to aviary wire (smaller holes) for keeping rats out at about two feet above grade and a foot below grade. In addition to that I use galvanized hardware cloth, about 2”x3” size hole. Go below grade about a foot and two feet above grade. I curve the wire away from the coop underground so if something digs they just end up in finding wire, and no easy access. Then to top it off I weave 3’of rebar into the wire and drive it about two feet into the ground, spaced about every foot and half. This rebar prevents dogs charging the wire and breaking it down. Yep, I’ve seen a dog do that! A good rule of thumb for space in the coop is 4-5 square feet per chicken, of course the more space the better, just make sure they have a safe place at night. Winter around here in our rainforest is always a challenge to keeping your chickens dry. Pine shavings are always nice, and straw can be fine too, but sometimes straw does not absorb the water as well. I’ve made the mistake of using too much straw, and after the rain and mud it made a hard layer in my coop that the chickens did not like, my girls were mad, they did not like the adobe floor I had accidently made. They want to get to the dirt. Just make sure that they have a place to be dry, especially their feet. Some folks use food grade Diatomaceous Earth or Stall Dry® to help reduce the accumulation of ammonia. I find just keeping the inside dry, clean and turning over the dirt seems to do well. A clean coop is very important. I try to clean mine about every month and half or so, although it depends on how many chickens you have and the size of the space, of course. Using a flat shovel, I scrape out all the good fertilizer, add it to my garden soils and then rinse out the coop with one part bleach one part dish soap and ten parts water. I do that about every five or six months. So that’s the chicken fortress.

 Sample of a Spring Latch Hook & Eye

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I remember when I was a young buck on the ranch we just fed the adult chickens “grains” my dad would get at the hay and grain store, then that feed turned into these fancy crumbles and pellets. Now there are lots of organic and natural feeds on the market. Crumble (just what it sounds like) works well if you use a feeder to hold food or you like the chickens to scratch more for the food. Some folks say a lot of feed gets wasted but I haven’t had a wasteful chicken yet. Pellet form works well if you broadcast your feed. If you can squeeze it into your budget, there are “Natural” (now labeled No-GMO & Soy Free) and “Organic” feeds. Of course remember that you are eating the eggs, so what you feed them you are eating. The natural feed we stock is very close to organic, but they just can’t call it organic because it contains pre- and probiotics. The natural is slightly less expensive then the official USDA organic feed. Chickens love scraps from the kitchen. Just avoid bones, meat, raw potato skins, long cut grass and chocolate, yes thesekingfeed girls don’t get chocolate, and that’s OK! Don’t recycle your old egg shells back into the coop; I swear it’s just bad. Some folks say don’t feed them garlic or onion because it will make the eggs taste like them, maybe being Scottish and not Italian we don’t seem to have that garlic problem

 

There are a few other tips and notes to add. If you think a chicken might be sick, separate her from the rest of your flock. Sometimes a hen’s first eggs might look a little odd, but that’s OK, she will get on track. Molting (losing feathers) is normal, sometimes it does not happen at all and sometimes it happens twice a year, she might feel self-conscience at this time, so treat her extra nice; also egg production might slow a bit. Remember to collect the eggs, this helps keep production up and hungry critters away. Oh, and don’t forget to sit down and enjoy watching them take a dirt bath, this ritual is important to a chicken’s heath, they will bathe in the dusty dirt flinging it all over them and clucking in joy. This keeps them free of mites and fleas, and it’s just fun to watch! If all goes well, you should enjoy the company of your chickens for about 8 to 10 years.

 

To top it off…my good customer Charlie told me a good one, “Do you know what OPEC is? It’s the noise Irish chickens make!”

 

For more how to tips and local advice be sure to “like” Boulder Creek Hardware on Facebook or visit our website at www.Bouldercreekhardware.com

 

Doug Conrad is the owner of Boulder Creek Hardware, your hardware store. Boulder Creek Hardware is the valley’s oldest hardware store. Be sure to check out all the new feed, ranch, and pet supplies next time your in downtown. Doug can be reached at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it "> This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it or 8-6833.

Article originally published April 2012.